During the past decade, a major advance in automation involves the shift toward closer line integration.

“Instead of buying separate pieces of equipment from different suppliers, a lot of manufacturers have started taking a more holistic view at the entire line,” said Lawrence Roos, chief product development officer for TNA,

As a result, he added, some OEMs now offer completely integrated packaging systems comprised of a bagger, case packer, case erector and case sealer. The benefits often include better communication between components, detailed reporting of the operation and a more consistent level of performance across the line.

“In fact, overall line speeds have significantly increased over the past 10 years with some end-of-line solutions now reaching up to 300 bags per minute,” Mr. Roos explained. “Integrated systems are also easier to operate as they’re using the same controls platforms, resulting in less human error and reduced downtime. With our ultra-high-speed TNA robag 5 VFFS system and TNA ropac 5 case packer, snack manufacturers can overcome this challenge and double the throughput of their existing snack lines with a single solution.”

Paxiom Group offers such end-of-line automation with pick-and-place case packing as well as drop-packing, side-loading, bottom-loading and semi-automatic systems. Its new compact robotic Top-load Modular Cell is equipped to pick and place finished package types including bags, wrapped products, rigid containers, cartons and widgets into cases and trays. The unit operates using either vacuum or mechanical pick-up. Using servo drives, Paxiom noted the modular cell provides precise handling while also maintaining product integrity.

Heat and Control recently rolled out the Ishida ACP-700 snack food case packer for small and large bag sizes in multiple pack patterns. With tool-free 3-minute changeovers and zero-change parts, the system includes an integrated case erector and closing mechanism and features a large color-touch display.

While labor savings typically contribute the most to ROI, additional packaging capacity for small bags emerges as a residual benefit.

“In the market today, there has been a significant need for small bags, which is causing snack producers headaches,” Mr. Almond said. “They need more packaging capacity, and in a lot of cases, don’t have room to expand or add more packaging machines. Automation enables snack producers to maximize their packaging machine capacity.”

Heat and Control offers a packaging cell consisting of a scale, bagger, seal checker and case packer capable of running 150 bpm on certain snack foods. A manual or semi-automatic model may be throttled back to 90 to 100 bpm for two people to pack.

Meanwhile, BluePrint Automation’s new Spider 300v case packer uses delta-style robots with vision to allow processors and co-packers to case pack both vertical and horizontal pack patterns into a wide range of containers and cases sizes on the same machine.

The Elematic 1001 SL by Bosch Packaging Technology provides sideload case packing with an ergonomic design and tool-freechangeovers.

Delkor’s MSP-m packs pouches and bags at speeds of up to 200 per minute with a maximum case output of 50 cases per minute.

“Robotic technology has advanced not only to allow for greater speeds and additional flexibility in case packing but also to reduce the cost and complexity of the overall system,” said Rick Gessler, vice-president of engineering, Delkor Systems, Inc. “This has helped end-of-line packaging machines to be more easily justified for a wider range of businesses.”

Additionally, Jerry Buckley, south central regional sales manager, BluePrint Automation, noted that vision-guided robotics have become more user-friendly, allowing for greater flexibility for packing various snack products with patterns that were not possible in the past.